Tanzania And The Secret To Identity Inclusiveness


The most remarkable domestic factor that sets Tanzania apart from almost all of its African peers is that it has never undergone a period of identity conflict. Granted, there have occasionally been some disturbances in Zanzibar, but by and large, they pale in comparison to anything else that has historically occurred on the continent. When looking at mainland Tanzania, which is where the vast bulk of the population resides, it’s unmistakably peaceful and untouched by violent civil discord. In general, this is because ethnic belonging is not politicized in Tanzania, and that the country’s citizens have learned to deeply resist demagogic outreaches relying on identity rhetoric. Furthermore, a factor which mustn’t ever be forgotten is that no single ethnic group is even remotely close to dominating the country’s affairs, with the largest one – the Sukuma – constituting a measly 16% of the population, while the composite total of this group and its next six-largest counterparts only amounts to about 33% of the country. This reality makes it extremely difficult for any ‘sustainable’ arrangement to take root in which identity politics becomes the key driver of the country’s domestic affairs. Tanzania would simply collapse into a failed assortment of quasi-independent tribal-identifying statelets and cease to function as a viable territorial-political unit. 

The peculiarity of how Tanzania was able to avoid civil strife in the decades since its independence is something exceptional enough to devote additional time and resources into studying, and therefore this article will relate to the reader all of the relevant findings that key experts have discovered about this topic. If one recalls the “Law Of Hybrid War”, it’s that manufactured identity conflict is a heightened vulnerability for all of the participating countries along the New Silk Road, and accordingly, anything that can help to defend a country from this sort of asymmetrical turmoil is of unparalleled strategic value to decision makers all across the world. The Tanzanian experience is therefore a priceless example in explaining how a highly diverse country surprisingly managed to avoid the throes of identity conflict for decades, though of course, it should be qualified that this doesn’t mean that it’s indefinitely immune from this virus. “NGOs” (or more accurately, government-organized NGOs or GONGOs) could engage in ‘identity canvassing’ under the guise of being aid workers involved in humanitarian assistance projects. Tanzania is still a comparatively impoverished country and is inordinately dependent on such activities, so the plausible cover is already established for intelligence-influenced “humanitarian” and “democratic” organizations to infiltrate the state and spread divisive identity-focused ideologies. 

In proceeding with the rest of the research, the author will summarize the works of prominent researchers in this field, compartmentalizing each further category into an overview of their most relevant publications. After reviewing these pertinent materials, a composite summary will then be presented which posits the theoretical foundations for partially replicating Tanzania’s success in achieving identity harmony. 

The Roots Of Ethnic Peace

Michael Lofchie, professor of political science at UCLA, wrote a research article about “The Roots of Ethnic Peace in Tanzania”. He methodically writes about the cross-cutting nature of the Tanzanian establishment, which evolved from the outset to become a cosmopolitan collection of many separate identity-based groups, though none of which place their possible identity separateness above their patriotic duty. He attributes this to two complementary categories of predisposed factors and proactive policies. To begin with the first one, he speaks thoroughly in depth about the importance of the Swahili language, which Lofchie identifies as an important unifying aspect of Tanzanian society. Importantly, Swahili isn’t a native tongue of any of the country’s ethnic groups, having instead been formed as a composite language from local African vocabulary and Arabic loanwords during the heyday of the slave trade. He also thinks that colonial impacts such as German indirect rule (which essentially steamrolled traditional leaders and their structures) and the UK-led international trusteeship (which prevented the British from overly manipulating social structures) inordinately played a role in shaping an inclusive national identity. 

Concerning geography, he recognizes that most of the population is situated around the peripheral regions, thus leaving a relatively empty interior. Tanzania’s vast agricultural richness and sparsely populated territory means that there’s ‘enough to go around for everyone’, and the distance between ethnic groups made it less likely that historical blood feuds would erupt over resources anyhow. Lofchie draws attention to Dar es Salaam and highlights how it’s truly evolved into a multi-ethnic and diverse city. This is particularly important, he says, because it means that no dominant ‘native’ group was able to ascend to power in the former capital and disproportionately exercise power at others’ expense (as had so often happened in many other African countries after independence). This also greatly contributed to Nyerere and the Tanzanian African National Union (TANU, the predecessor of CCM) practicing revolutionary inclusiveness in their independence struggle, instead of the ethno-centrism that regularly characterized other African countries’ national story during this time. Accordingly, Lofchie identifies a form of cultural pluralism that was vigorously strengthened by the socialist principles of Ujamaa. It helped that there was a variability of ethnic identity, which he defines as being an interchange between local (tribal), religious, political, and civic nationalisms that could frequently fluctuates depending on circumstances, though with the latter patriotic identification always remaining predominant. 

Addressing the second classification about the proactive policies that the government implemented in promotion of ethnic peace, the expert returns back to Swahili, though this time discussing the reasoning behind the authorities’ decision to make it the official language. He says that this was a very important milestone because it was an equalizer between all of Tanzania’s disparate identities, though one which was totally apolitical and not associated with any given group more so than the rest.  The next policy that Lofchie praises is the educational one. He remarks how the government closed down private schools and deliberate made an effort to mix different social and ethnic groups together. He additionally points out how the teachers would emphasize national pride and loyalty to the party, all while reminding students that unity and cooperation were the keys to the national movement. This had the effect of reinforcing a singular, patriotic identity. The other significant policy that the professor explains is the National Service, which was a mandatory five-month military training period before any interested individuals could enter the civil service. He says that participants engaged in such strenuous activities as land clearing, road repair, and school construction, all of which contributed upon completion to a feeling of togetherness among the recruits. This bonding was instrumental in fostering a patriotic civil cadre that cut across Tanzania’s multitude of identity lines. 

Continuing with his research, Lofchie elaborates on the electoral policies that were beneficial in achieving the objective of national unity. He recounts how the party was more important than individual candidates, and that each prospective politician had to go through a vigorous vetting process and abide by strict procedural regulations. He writes that some of these requirements were enforced in order “to prevent individuals whose major claim to prominence was local ethnic popularity from rising to national political office or remaining there.” Along with this, the removal of traditional chieftaincies also went a long way in dismantling ethno-centric identity. Tanzania generally has free speech, Lofchie writes, but it still bans political parties from inciting identity separateness and divisiveness along religious, ethnic, and regionalist lines. Talking about yet another governmental policy that he feels was very significant, the researcher makes mention of what he calls the “symbolic role of leadership”. This is described as a system in which the individual decision maker is important, yet still subservient to the party. This prevents a person from climbing the ranks too fast and becoming uncontrollably popular, though Lofchie of course makes an exception for Nyerere, the man who founded this said system. 

As prudent as the government’s policies may be and as advantageous as Tanzania’s preexisting situation may have been for national unity, Lofchie still warns that there are several countervailing factors that decision makers need to be aware of. He recognizes that the advances of the past five decades are being modified or in some cases even reversed by the post-Cold War liberalization that the country went through, though he still remains fairly confident that identity harmony will prevail due to each Tanzanian appreciating how much conscious hard work goes into maintaining their national stability. Nevertheless, rising Islamic identity poses a very clear risk to Tanzania, he says, and the divide between Muslims and Christians might even become more pronounced in the future (whether in fact or in perception). The differences between Zanzibar and the Tanganyikan mainland could also emerge as a problem in the future, too.  

In the face of these obvious challenges, though, Lofchie takes care to remind the reader that Tanzania’s Muslim community is geographically dispersed and cuts across many different classes, races, and even denominational sects (Sunni and Shia). He also notes how Muslims are fairly represented in the National Executive Committee and the National Assembly, the two most powerful decision-making institutions in the country, as well as how two presidents (Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Jakaya Kikwete) shared the Islamic faith. Even though the main CUF opposition party in the country is fairly popular in Zanzibar, the professor says that the much more populous mainlanders don’t share their insular counterparts’ enthusiasm for this group, though of course this could eventually emerge as a source of intensified discord in the future should the autonomous island territory be targeted by a Color Revolution (Korybko’s analysis). In concluding his extensive research, Lofchie remarks that the ruling CCM has been masterful at reinventing itself in the post-Cold War period and continuing to win every national election in spite of the economic collapse that occurred in the 1970s and 80s under its watch. He surmises that this must be because people want familiarity and continuity, that they respect Nyerere’s vision, and that the CCM-led government is still visibly much more effective at preventing identity discord than its Kenyan, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Congolese counterparts are. 

An Island Of Stability In Sub-Sahara Africa

The next expert whose work will be discussed is Alicia Erickson, and she wrote “Peace in Tanzania: An Island of Stability in Sub-Sahara Africa”. A lot of her analysis echoes Lofchie’s, except that she does introduce a few new and interesting elements to the topic. Just like Lofchie, she believes that Nyerere and the CCM played an instrumental role in preserving ethnic peace in Tanzania, pointing specifically to the formalization of Kiswahili as the national language. She also adds that the government’s banning of ethnic terms helped play an influential part in molding a unitary national identity. One of the most decisive things that the Nyerere did, though, was to annunciate the principles of Ujamaa with the 1967 Arusha Declaration. This established a clear national vision and laid the ideological framework for the authorities’ forthcoming policies. Erickson strongly contrasts this with the “tribalism” in Kenya, which did not undergo the experiences of collectivization and communalism. While these policies were beneficial for social and political stability, the expert concludes that they were horrible for the economy. 

In relation to the other East African states, Erickson says that Tanzania isn’t as similar as many people might initially think. She says that the widespread identity diversity in ethnicity, religion, and regional locales is deceptive and masks the many differences that the country has with its neighbors. In fact, the only similarity that it does have is its eclectic diversity, which she interestingly argues was a unique strength for Tanzania in the pre-independence era. She convincingly explains that this forced TANU to be diverse and inclusive itself, which in turn fostered an assortment of cosmopolitan elites from the get-go. In order to maintain this identity profile, she writes that Tanzania utilized “political socialization”, which she defines as “focus[ing] on how leaders use media and education systems to mold the views of citizens with certain political ideals.” In popular culture, this is colloquially known as “social engineering”. In wrapping up her research, Erickson shares her main conclusions by writing that unity is best achieved through a common leader with a common vision. She commends Nyerere for responsibly stepping down in 1985 and demonstrating “his dedication to the cause of peace and equality, not to the preservation of his own personal power.” 

The lesson to be learned is that a common leader with a common vision should make people believe in the viability and attractiveness of their model, and then bequeath them a functioning likeminded institutional apparatus as a parting legacy, which thus ensures the endurance and sustainability of the leader’s vision (Korybko’s analysis). 

The Importance Of Institutions

Rebecca Tong, an undergraduate researcher at Illinois Wesleyan University, published a research article about “Explaining Ethnic Peace: The Importance of Institutions”. She compares two pairs of neighboring countries – Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and Kenya and Tanzania – in exploring why one of them is very peaceful while the other has a history of violence, theorizing that the chief difference between these similarly composed states is the nature of their institutions. As the reader can already observe, it’s somewhat of a popular activity for Tanzania researchers to compare their country of focus with Kenya, and that’s largely due to the shared Swahili language, the long periods of peace, and the similar levels of demographic diversity within both of these states. 

Most of her work deals with elaborating on the three main theories of identity conflict. The first one is primordialism, which essentially says that ethnic conflict is so deeply ingrained within people that it is unchangeable and almost instinctual, suggesting that historic conflicts will always resurface after some time has passed and the right circumstantial triggers have been activated. The second theory is instrumentalism, and this train of thought teaches that identity is consciously and rationally applied by the individual and collectives to achieve maximum benefits, meaning that it could either be pragmatic or a source of competition. Lastly, the final theory that Tong introduces to the reader is constructivism, which is “essentially a bridge between primordialism and instrumentalism” and “posits that ethnicity is a social identification, not an individual one.” In practice this means identity is fluid an can change, whether consciously or unconsciously, and could be influenced by other purposefully applied or inadvertent factors. It also connects identity to structures and institutions. 

This last part is important because it forms the basis for Tong’s research. She hypothesizes that “institutions absorb conflicts either by creating peaceful mechanisms or by preventing abuse in political systems.” In connection with this, she describes how there is a pervasive feeling among some Muslims that the elite is disproportionately Christian, but contrarily, Christians fear that more Muslim representation or a more explicit focus on their interests would undermine national unity and create a lobbying group that caters only to their agenda. In seeking to gauge how Tanzanians feel about their institutions, which she believes is the strongest barometer of ethnic peace in the country, Tong used data from other outlets and integrated it into her methodology. She found out that Tanzania, as she hypothesized, has a high rate of societal trust in institutions, and that the citizens also have a great deal of trust in other ethnicities separate from their own. Therefore, she concludes that the Tanzanian elite to not manipulate political and ethnic factors, thus contributing to the country’s lasting stability. 

Depoliticized Ethnicity In Tanzania

The final piece of authoritative literature that will be reviewed is Mrisho Malipula’s “Depoliticized ethnicity in Tanzania: a structural and historical narrative”. The Tanzanian researcher writes that his country only has social and cultural ethnicity, and that there is no political saliency for ethnicity because of the sustained nation-building project that Tanzania has embarked on since independence. This was influenced by pre-colonial and colonial factors, and led to the development of a unique political culture. Malipula ascribes to the ethnic structure argument, which posits that if a country has a few large ethnic groups, then it will be more ethnically polarized because there is a possibility that these blocs are large enough to win elections; reversely, in countries with a wide array of ethnic groupings, politicians must reach out to the myriad ethnic groups and are therefore less likely to engage in ethnic polarization. All of this is ultimately attributable to what he calls a winning minimum coalition, which is the minimum amount of votes that an ethnic coalition would need to win an election. 

Malipula analyzes the proportion of each of Tanzania’s 120 ethnic groups in the country and solidly concludes that it is almost impossible for a winning minimum coalition to be achieved. He proves that the two largest ethnic groups combined – the Sukuma and the Nyamwezi – account for only about 25% of the population, and if the next five largest ethnicities are added to the total, then this proposed coalition would only constitute 33% of the country’s citizens, and that’s assuming that every one of them votes for this bloc. The amount of ethnic canvassing that would be required to pass the 50% threshold is enormous, since none of the other 118 ethnicities in the country are more than 4% of the total population. Furthermore, Malipula reminds the reader that state policy and cultural tradition would be totally against this in any case, thus making it even more impossible to pull off. Kenya, however, is very different in this regard and has a history of proving that even smaller tribes could assemble ethnic coalitions and create “super tribes” via what Tong would likely attribute to instrumentalism. Because of the demographic reality in Tanzania, though, Malipula strongly writes that the potential for the politicization of ethnicity is more imaginary than actual. 

The next part of the researcher’s writing consists of an explanation about how four separate periods of Tanzanian history were most relevant in the construction of a unified and harmonious identity. He begins by commenting on the pre-colonial era and notes that the mainland had non-centralized ethnic groups, though remarking that this is the opposite of Zanzibar’s Omani slavery system. For all intents and purposes, he specifies that his research deals specifically with the mainland majority of the country unless otherwise stated, as he acknowledges that the situation in the autonomous archipelago is drastically different than it is onshore. Moving along, Malipula addresses the colonial period and describes how the German’s enacted a system of direct administration that weakened the political and economic structures of pre-colonial Tanzanian societies. Zanzibar’s UK-sponsored system of indirect rule, however, retained and strengthened the existing Omani system and its respective elites. After 1920, mainland Tanzania (at the time referred to as Tanganyika) came under the UK’s indirect rule after the end of World War I. This muddled the traditional structures that still existed within the country, but the British didn’t pay too much attention to their new colony and largely neglected it, considering it an imperial backwater due to its lack of economic significance to the crown. 

Malipula describes the next period as being one defined by the nationalist movement and the socialist nation-building project. He says that TANU and its allied Tanganyika African Association (TAA) fostered a political culture of unity and inclusiveness, and that Nyerere was very explicit about his opposition to tribal, regional, and racial politics. The expert touches upon the 1967 Arusha Declaration that outlined the principles of Ujamaa and interpreted them as being the socialist path towards “fundamental equality”. Like his academic peers, Malipula also commends the government for making Swahili the national language. He praises the authorities’ decision to downplay ethnic associations in public life and accentuate Tanzanian national identity instead. Like Lofchie, Malipula interprets the policy of compulsory military training and villagization as being beneficial for the country’s unity. 

About the post-Cold War period of liberal reform in the 1990s until the present, the researcher remarks how the economic and political changes destroyed the prior centralization that had come to dominate the Tanzanian domestic scene. He recounts how there was a brief period of anxiety about the beginning of the multiparty era, with many people afraid that this will lead to violent divisions within the country. Thankfully, though, the CCM handily won the election and retained political consistency. Malipula attributes their victory to their institutional advantages (e.g. established nationwide canvassing infrastructure), legitimate public support, and their success in reinventing themselves. Moreover, the CCM “stigmatised as tribalist the opposition parties with seemingly strong local bases”, and the “CUF, being strong in Pemba where over 98% of its inhabitants are Muslims, has been accused of being an instrument for Muslim interests.” Another tactic that the CCM employed was to compare stable Tanzania to its chaotic neighbors, in a savvy demonstration of “political socialization” that underscored just how efficient the party was in transitioning the country through the end of the Cold War (Korybko analysis). 

The last part of Malipula’s research ends with the awareness that structural and historical factors complement one another in depoliticizing ethnicity in Tanzania. They serve to maintain the porous and heterogeneous ethnic structures of the pre-colonial and colonial periods. It’s almost impossible for any politician to play the ethnic card in Tanzania due to the demographic statistics that argue against the formation of any minimum winning coalition constructed along these lines. The country has thus constructed a unified society within a decentralized structure marked by cross-cutting institutions and associations that transcend identity boundaries. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the nation-building economic policy and political centralization of Ujamaa during the Cold War era. 

Patterning Tanzania’s Identity Template

The four expert publications that were reviewed above contain a lot of valuable information about the secrets to Tanzania’s identity harmony, and additionally, they also have quite a few commonalities between them. This indicates that the experts generally understand the situation in a similar way, raising the prospect that some of Tanzania’s policies that positively contributed to its famed domestic stability could be patterned and applied by other states as well. It’s obviously understood that most countries in the world do not share Tanzania’s predisposed domestic factors, but nonetheless, some of them might have a few similarities with it anyhow and thus make it even more applicable for them to experiment with applying Dodoma’s policies. Either way, the lessons that can learned from Tanzania regarding the formation of a unified national identity and a composite patriotism are extraordinarily relevant to any country at risk of Hybrid War, which is why the most important principles must urgently be elucidated. 

What stands out the most about Tanzania is that it was led for many years by a common leader with a common vision. He constructed a functional cross-cutting bureaucracy and “deep state” (the permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies) that remained as his institutional legacy after he finally left office. This enabled his vision to workable continue into the future. Relatedly, the country’s common leader definitively expressed his ideology in no uncertain terms, and this gave people tangible goals and values to work towards. There was regular verbal reaffirmation of national unity principles by the media and politicians, while its physical manifestation was experienced through hard work and collective suffering. Tanzania’s famed ideals of national unity and identity inclusiveness survived the post-Cold War era chiefly because of the enduring and incessant political socialization that goes on within the country, which serves to incubate patriotism and ostracize divisive rhetoric. All told, it’s possible for any state to follow the Tanzanian conceptual framework and implement identity-unifying policies, though this of course will be easier in some states than others owing to their particular domestic-historical situation and model of governance.